What Is Driving the Rise of Ethical Consumerism?
Published : 08 Oct 2021 Industry: Consumer Goods
Ethical consumerism is a “form of political activism based on the premise that purchasers in markets consume not only goods but also, implicitly, the process used to produce them.” Consumers recognize that each step in the production process used to make the goods they buy — including sourcing raw materials, transporting them, and creating products — has an impact on other people, animals, and the environment.
Ethical consumerism may not be new, but it has seen unprecedented interest and support in recent years. One survey discovered that almost half of respondents look at a brand’s efforts to be socially responsible when making a purchase. Further, a separate survey found that one-third of consumers will stop buying products they like if they no longer trust the brand that sells them. In other words, this ongoing change in consumer behavior can have very real impacts not just on the world, but on business’ bottom lines.
The reasons for this shift are complex and varied; there is a perfect storm of different factors and trends that have led to the current landscape. However, as a business, it’s vital to understand the underlying motives that drive ethical consumers. That way, you can better serve your customers, protect your business, and do your part to make the world a better place.
Ease of Communication
Communicating is faster now than ever before. Thanks to smartphones, computers, and other connected devices, consumers can communicate with people and businesses from all around the world. This makes it easier for consumers to learn about a business’s mission and beliefs, operations, and efforts to be socially responsible.
Digital communications, especially social media platforms, also allow consumers to share information with others and take action with unprecedented speed. This ability to organize can lead to powerful changes in consumer behavior, which then impacts purchasing habits.
Take the plastic water bottle, for instance. Unless they learn otherwise, consumers may not realize how harmful they are to the environment and continue to purchase them. With access to online communication channels, people can easily learn about this issue and adjust their habits accordingly. Many consumers have stopped purchasing plastic water bottles, reaching instead for more sustainable alternatives. While sellers of plastic water bottles have suffered, the market for reusable water bottles has changed dramatically and will likely continue to grow in the coming years.
Expansion of E-Commerce
Communications aren’t the only thing that has gone digital; so has shopping itself. E-commerce has rapidly grown by leaps and bounds, showing no signs of stopping. In the United States, revenue from e-commerce is expected to surpass $500 billion by 2025.
E-commerce is ideal for ethical consumers. When online shopping is done with sustainability in mind, it can be more environmentally friendly. It also opens up countless new shopping opportunities. Consumers are no longer limited to local stores. They can go online and find companies that share their values, support the causes they care about, and ensure their purchases do good.
It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that has resulted in the explosion of various consumer goods markets. Consumers seek out ethical brands online. These brands and their inevitable competitors then offer even more ethical options to attempt to attract more customers. With more available options, more consumers turn to ethical e-commerce brands to find what they’re looking for.
Rise of Social Enterprises
A social enterprise is an organization that has set specific social objectives but uses commercial structures and strategies to reach those goals. They often attempt to maximize both profits and their societal impact, using profits to contribute to their social programs.
Though they are relatively new, social enterprises have already seen substantial growth. As their attitudes have shifted towards one of increased social consciousness, consumers have responded readily to the rise of this new model. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: social enterprises need the support of ethical consumers, and ethical consumers can support the socially conscious organizations they’re looking for.
Changing Views About Global Citizenship
Global citizenship refers to “the belief that individuals are members of multiple, diverse, local and non-local networks rather than single actors affecting isolated societies.” People believe they are part of a larger, broader, global society agnostic of geography or national borders.
A growing number of people now consider themselves global citizens, first and foremost. This isn’t to say that people are now rejecting their local identity or pride — just that they recognize their responsibility to contribute to the world at large. This belief goes hand-in-hand with ethical consumerism, which emphasizes the ethical sourcing of raw materials and the use of fair, non-exploitative labor practices, regardless of where they’re from.
Technological advancements are likely a significant contributor to changing views about global citizenship. Information is abundant and readily available. Consumers can learn more about what’s going on in other areas of the world and even talk to people from anywhere on earth. Simply put, it’s far easier for consumers to stay informed and care about global goings-on, both good and bad.
Impacts of Climate Crisis
Environmental awareness is a major component and driving force behind ethical consumerism. A 2020 survey on climate change found that 73% of Americans believe in global warming, and 62% believe that human activities are the main cause. With the ongoing climate crisis looming on the horizon, many consumers want to do whatever they can to decrease their environmental impact, even if that means changing what they buy.
However, simply selling sustainable solutions isn’t enough. They want businesses to make similar efforts to help the planet. This includes using less wasteful packaging, reducing the carbon footprint of their operations, and generally taking steps to minimize any negative environmental impacts. Essentially, they expect businesses to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Consumers are growing more health-conscious, almost by the day. Though not the same, there is often overlap between health-conscious and ethical consumers. Recent research highlights that many consumers want to make lifestyle changes that benefit both their health and the environment.
Further, health and wellness trends have fueled the demand for many ethical products, particularly those from the food and beverage sector. For instance, many people want to adopt a “healthy” diet, but do so in different ways. This can lead to increases in demand for products that, while different, are both considered more ethical food sources, such as organic chicken and vegan protein.
Interest in Self-Sufficiency
Being self-sufficient refers to the idea of reducing your reliance on outside resources, entities, organizations, and people for survival. Ranging from completely off-the-grid living to improving DIY skills, self-sufficiency can take many forms. It’s a nice complement to ethical consumption, as more people look to reduce how much they consume and increase the number of things they can do on their own.
Ethical consumers know that buying things won’t reverse climate change, save animals from mistreatment, or prevent labor exploitation. There’s far more to it than that. To avoid contributing to those issues, ethical consumers must shop, purchase, and consume less.
To improve their self-sufficiency, ethical consumers may restrict their purchases to items they deem essential. They may also buy things that help facilitate their self-sufficiency in lieu of their previously typical purchases. For example, an ethical consumer may choose to buy supplies to grow an herb garden at home — including pots, soil, gardening tools, and seeds — so they can stop buying pre-grown herbs from the grocery store.
Desire to Challenge the Status Quo
Two-thirds of Americans want to see more government efforts to fight the climate crisis, while people around the world report discontentment with their respective governments and economies. Though individual opinions will vary, it’s clear many people feel dissatisfied with the current state of the world, and some may feel compelled to do what they can to change it.
People who want to use their position as a consumer in this way likely already believe that many aspects of the status quo need to be challenged. After all, this philosophy is rooted in the belief that individual choices matter and can lead to change. Whether they know it or not, these people are ethical consumers and driving the changes they want to see in the world.